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A Review of “436 Two-Part Chorales”

J.S. Bach/Cory Hall. 436 Two-Part Chorales: Essential Studies in Counterpoint, Musicianship, & Sight-Reading.
USA: Bach Scholar Publishing, LLC, 2021.
198 pages. $18.95, digital only.
169 pages. $44.95, paperback.

Aside from being a piano virtuoso and prolific classical recording artist, Dr. Cory Hall is well-known as a leading authority on J.S. Bach’s tempo practices. His books are useful for piano, keyboard, and theory students because they include essential studies in sight-reading, musicianship, and counterpoint technique. These studies can also help prepare students for playing Bach’s contrapuntal music, such as two-part inventions and fugues.

Hall’s 436 Two-Part Chorales contains the treasures of chorale music in two-part writing, which means that the middle two voices (alto and tenor) are removed from the four-part version of the chorales, leaving the soprano and bass parts. While two-part chorales can be carefully crafted by all musicians, they are particularly well-suited for those who are less advanced in music.

Hall’s edition does not provide any fingerings for the chorale melodies; neither does it include any articulation. This allows the musician to develop his/her own fingerings, appropriate phrasing and articulation, and a controlled, cantabile touch according to the phrases indicated by fermatas in each chorale. The musician also has the liberty to incorporate slight changes in dynamics that reflect the movement of the phrases, and he/she may also use the damper pedal properly, if applicable. Some of the chorales are printed in different keys, which provides different options for the musician based on his/her level and ability.

Hall arranges the two-part chorales alphabetically according to the German chorale melody. Since text is not included within the music, it is simplified in look with less room for distraction. However, the English translation of each chorale tune is included below each chorale title. Chorales with similar melodies are ordered according to the BWV number, and there is a BWV index in the front for easy reference. Also included in the index of chorales is the title of the larger work with which each chorale belongs. 

This book is available in both digital and paperback copies. The digital copy is a non-printable PDF version that can be used on an iPad, tablet, or computer. The paperback copy is spiral bound with 9×12 inch pages, a sturdy build, and a larger, more legible text. Hall has arranged these chorales to prevent page-turning in the middle of a chorale, allowing the musician to play with ease.

Teachers and students of both piano and organ will find Hall’s 436 Two-Part Chorales to be useful for sightreading, learning counterpoint techniques, and developing musicianship. Additionally, Bach’s chorales are an essential part in a church musician’s repertoire because of their importance in historical church hymnody. Therefore, this book helps sustain the richness of Bach’s chorales for the next generation of church musicians.

Bethany Johnson is Kantor at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Topeka, KS, and serves as Director/Administrator of St. John’s Music Academy, where she also teaches piano, organ, and violin.